Nine years ago I took a snowboarding fall at Lake Louise, Alberta and thought I had a concussion. After a few weeks of vertigo, nausea, and vomit-inducing migraines, I was diagnosed with Adult Medulloblastoma — a rare, but survivable form of brain cancer. The fall had shoved the tumor against one of the vessels that drains fluid off the brain causing it to swell, and create the migraines and vertigo that sent me to hospital. Lucky thing too — the cancer was a microscopic distance from my brain, not yet inside it. I had a chance to make it.
The next day’s surgery caused what doctors call an insult to the brain: meaning the tissues of the vestibular center — the part of the brain that organizes and co-ordinates sensory and motor neural impulses into and out of the brain — were inflamed and none of the crucial information of where my feet were, what my eyes were really seeing, how my head or spine was positioned, was connecting properly…
One day a hospital food service worker dropping off my breakfast tray turned his head to say ‘good morning’. I saw a de-boned, rubber chicken of a man swiveling his head like something from a horror movie with a possessed doll (or rubber chicken). Then, as he walked out of the room, my bed pitched 45 degrees, like a small ocean vessel cresting a wave in a hurricane.
Over the past nine years I’ve weathered that storm and come out on the other side to friendly waters. I had some help from family, friends and few professionals, but mostly I had to chart my own course (and that’s the end of that metaphor). I used every bit of my early life as an athlete and book hound to build exercises, nutrition and coping strategies to reclaim my brain and my mobility. And I still do because there’s always a new challenge. And more and more I wonder if I should keeping it to myself is the right thing to do, or if I should share it…sharing won out, because maybe it could do someone else some good.